Who let the dogs out?

By Marifi Jara

I was not surprised to learn that the Philippines ranked third in the Word Health Organization’s list of countries with high rabies incidents. But that does not mean I was not shaken. A confirmation of a reality is still, and always is, disturbing.

Travel anywhere around the country, whether in an urban or rural area, even in the capital Metro Manila, and you would be lucky not to find an askal, short for asong kalye, roaming the streets.

A young lady Australian I encountered briefly in a continent on the other side of the map was pleasantly surprised to meet me, a Filipino in a country where very few south east Asians wander, because she has once been to the Philippines, with her sister who has a Filipino boyfriend. She said she enjoyed her trip to tropical Pinas, except that the dogs everywhere bothered her deeply. Coming from a developed country where pets are tagged and very strict rules are implemented on domestic care, she must have been shocked out of her wits to see all the askals, which are mongrels, patrolling freely. I found it quite funny but I do see and understand her vantage point. She, too, was cool about it, and obviously simply making an honest outsider’s observation.

And while I accept that it is a part of our culture, I cannot bow to the argument that it simply justifies the reality. We need to start doing something about it.

Askals are so deeply ingrained in our culture that majority of the Filipinos take it for granted that they are out there, everywhere. Up until, perhaps, when they or a loved one gets bitten and contracts rabies.

Now here’s the more shocking part of the WHO announcement on September 8, celebrated as World Rabies Day: Pangasinan is the number one province in the country with the highest rabies-positive dogs!

Well, that may be perhaps, according to Dr. Eric Jose Perez, officer in charge of the Office of the Provincial Veterinarian, because we are well-informed and so honest about it that we actually report the rabies incidents for recording. Most of the total 94 positive rabies cases come from western Pangasinan and all four related death incidents so far this year happened in Bolinao.

Perez said the high level of awareness of Pangasinenses about rabies compels them to submit their dogs for examination if suspected to have rabies after biting a person and that other provinces are not as diligent in submitting their reports. Right, that is quite comforting.

The provincial vet office is also trying to address the situation by administering free massive anti-rabies vaccination of dogs in every town and city, complemented by an intensified information and education campaign. Now even if that is duplicated everywhere else in the country, I don’t think our askal state of affairs will get any better.

What we need is a deeper cultural change. A change in attitude towards dogs and pet care and taking responsibility when we want to domesticate animals. We can’t simply leave our askals to breed uncontrollably and freely roam public spaces.

We should not let the dogs out.

(For past columns, click

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